Tag Archives: Comedy

Throwback Review: Planes, Trains And Automobiles

Need To Get In The Mood For Thanksgiving? Try Planes, Trains And Automobiles

With Thanksgiving coming up I started to try and recall movies that featured the holiday and found myself going blank. After a quick Google search, I was surprised that there were quite a few movies where Thanksgiving was prominent. (This was surprising to me considering the plethora of Christmas films that exist and the fact that what looked like a dreadful movie by Garry Marshall was entirely devoted to New Year’s Eve. Due to this fact, I thought almost no films featured that day) But, most of the films on the list looked pretty awful or were not of my taste. The Ice Storm definitely being the latter. Still, I did find a few that were good and that have a definite way of putting one in the mood for Turkey day.   Planes, Trains, And Automobiles is my focus this week.

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What I Remembered: I first saw this film when I was barely out of diapers. Back then I liked it a great deal and thought it was pretty funny. But, given my level of comprehension at the time I’m not that surprised at my reaction. I saw parts of it off and on in my younger years and was doubled over with laughter at particular points and actually unsettled by others. Now, being a grownup I recently decided to take another look at the entire picture. What I came away with was a piece that had moments that were extremely hilarious, a story that was good, and had poignancy, but that also felt stuck in its time period and could be nauseatingly schmaltzy and saccharine.

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The Story: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles focuses on its two central characters Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffiths (John Candy). As the film begins, we meet Neal who is a marketing executive from Chicago. He is presently in New York on a business trip that has been unsuccessful. He is running to make it to La Guardia airport during rush hour for his flight back home and while trying to hail a taxi, loses it to an unseen man carrying a huge trunk full of something. (It is also implied that it is only a few days before Thanksgiving and that Neal is a family man eager to get him to his brood for the holiday.) He arrives late to the airport and believes that he has missed his flight until he sees that it has been delayed. While reading a magazine as he’s waiting to hear news about his flight he notices a man sitting across from him at the gate. The man is looking at him as if he recognizes him. Neal sees the trunk beside the stranger and realizes that he is the man who stole his cab. When the man introduces himself as Del and asks Neil where he knows him from, Neal with an annoyed look on his face, tells Del that he took his cab to the airport from Manhattan. Del apologizes and offers to buy him a coffee, but Neal declines.

When his flight finally boards, Neil finds that due to the fact that the flight was overbooked his first class seat is unavailable and he has to sit back in coach. There he finds a chaotic and irritating scene made worse by the fact that Del will be his seat mate for the entire trip. Del is chatty and slightly annoying and it’s only until Neal politely asks Del to cease talking that he stops. But, Del continues to be irksome when he takes he shoes and socks off and keeps unintentionally resting his head on Neal’s shoulder while he sleeps. The flight is diverted to Wichita due to weather and Neal finds himself stuck in the airport for the night. When Del offers to help him get a motel room through a business contact (It is surmised that Del is a traveling salesman.) Neal reluctantly agrees. Neal will now find himself paired with Del both by intention and chance for the rest of his trip home where they will use many means of transportation and undergo many different setbacks, so that Neal can be with his family on Thanksgiving. Along the way, they will learn about a great deal about themselves and each other.

Technical Details: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was not an incredible film, but it was not bad. John Hughes writing and direction were more than competent and the pacing of it was done well. The script itself was packed with moments that were humorous, realistically uncomfortable when there were arguments, and times where it was poignant especially the ending. Arguably, the most laudable aspect of Hughes direction was his ability to capture the atmosphere of the United States before Thanksgiving and the headaches that come with travel, with tremendous realism. In addition, a great highlight of the movie were the performances of Steve Martin and John Candy. Steve Martin was excellent as the slightly dispirited, often aggravated, Neal. While John Candy was both someone that you could be sympathetic to and abraded by. Playing these two characters was no easy feat as if it were not done well Neal could just come off as a self- centered mean jerk and Del could just be some idiot you could have the misfortune of being trapped with. It was a credit to both actors talent that they were able to pull of making both characters so understandable and agreeable.
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However, the movie’s strongest point was its comedic moments. The famous “between two pillows” scene in the motel room was extremely funny as is the one in the rental car. But, by far my favorite moment occurred during Steve Martin’s f-bomb laden tirade when he goes to the rental car counter after being dropped of in the rental car lot, finding his car not there and then having to walk back to the airport. In that moment, having to deal with the exasperatingly perky rental car clerk is a moment I’m certain many of us have had, which is why it is so funny.


For all of its merits though, Planes, Trains and Automobiles did still have some deficiencies. First of all the movie was and is completely trapped in its era. The phone calls made on pay phones, the way credit cards, are processed, the look of the costumes and the feel of the airports, planes, cars, buses and trains featured in it, scream 1980’s. This undoubtedly dates it. Secondly, some of the scenes of Neal’s family desperately awaiting his return felt and still feel almost revoltingly overly sentimental. Finally, although the end of the film and the big truth about Del that was revealed in it and was somewhat moving, veers towards being schmaltzy once (Spoiler Alert) Neal is reunited with his family for the holiday.

End Credits: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was and mostly still is, a good movie. It is full of humor, well- acted and because it has a slightly serious underpinning to it, is more than just your average everything is going wrong kind of comedy. When you add the fact that the whole thing is set on and around Thanksgiving it is a good way to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday season. So, if you’re looking for a movie on Thanksgiving and want something that captures the moment that you’re in, you should try Planes, Trains, And Automobiles. It was not the greatest movie ever made, but it is more than worth seeing.

While We’re Young

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The generational divide between those approaching middle age and those in their twenties has always been very interesting to me. I suppose it’s because both sections in ones life represent a crossroads. The twenty something’s are just barely becoming adults and the forty something’s are just beginning to feel their age. There’s a moment in this movie where Naomi Watts’s character says something to the effect of “[This young couples] apartment is filled with all the things we once threw out.” In the movie itself that line doesn’t carry an enormous amount of weight, but from an outside perspective it’s remarkably profound. It really shines a light on the fascination with the retro and vintage that the so called Hipster sub-culture seems obsessed with. While I could drone on and on about the social and cultural meanings of the film let’s first take a look at the film itself and see how it holds up.

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The plot of this film isn’t terribly complicated. You’ve got a 44 year old documentary filmmaker Josh, played fabulously by Ben Stiller, and his 43 year old wife Cornelia, played just as magnanimously by Naomi Watts, navigating their lives. They seem happy enough. They’ve got similarly aged friends, friends who have just had a baby no less, and appear to act their age, whatever that means. Everything feels hunky dory. While lecturing about documentary filmmaking Josh meets Jamie (Adam Driver) and his young wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie is naturally a huge fan of Josh’s films and Josh is captivated by the energy and fearlessness of this 25 year old spitfire. Josh and Cornelia are pulled into the lives of Darby and Jamie and seem very happy. They seem energized by their youthful compatriots and as such begin to change how they act, how they dress and the sorts of activities they take part in. As the film unravels we find that Jamie isn’t the loosey goosey free spirit he seems. He’s much more calculated and ambitious than Josh thinks, and Josh feels betrayed by this false persona he, by his own admission, fell in love with. For the character Stiller plays it’s an earth shattering revelation, but as the other characters in the film point out it’s not that big a deal. From there Josh and Cornelia have to confront their age, and find happiness with who they are, or rather who they’ve become with age. Like I said, plot isn’t really where this film shines. It’s these full, rich characters. That’s the hook here.

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One of the things I most enjoyed about this film is that it put the Hipster mindset in the spotlight. It held it up for inspection. There’s a moment in the film when all our main characters are in a car together and Adam Drivers character mentions this hilarious song/video he saw on YouTube. Stiller’s character chuckles and says he remembers that from a commercial when he was a kid. Later Driver plays Stiller a song and Stiller remarks that he remembers a time when that song was just considered bad. Both of these moments capture the fascination that misty eyed twenty something’s have with the pop culture elements of yesteryear. What was originally bland and every day stuff is now looked it with a sense of wonder and reverie. Take that sentiment and couple it with and older generation looking back with nostalgia at the carefree attitudes of youth and you get a very interesting contrast. For the first two acts of this film you’ve got two couples who both admire each other for what they are, and what they aren’t. What I enjoyed most of all in the movie is that neither generation nor point of view is romanticized over the other. We’re not pushed to think that either generation has it right, or is better than the other. Both sets of couples are fleshed out, real people. While watching the movie I saw parts of myself, and parts of people I know in each character. They felt truly authentic. You understood these people and felt for them as they tried to figure out their lives.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s shot very well and with a great city like New York as your backdrop it’s easy to make each frame pop with life. The score is varied and interesting, and at times reminded me of something right out of a Wes Anderson picture. Director Noah Baumbach really did a knockout job with this picture. This is a movie about very real characters dealing with very real things. Though their trials and tribulations don’t have Earth shattering consequences it’s refreshing to see a film about genuine people. I left the theater feeling motivated and happy. What more could I ask for?

 

Get Hard

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I’d like to start off this review with a little disclaimer:  I am incredibly biased towards Will Ferrell. Nearly everything that man does makes me laugh, and to a certain extent that applies to his latest film Get Hard. I’m also a fairly big fan of his co-star in the picture Kevin Hart. Two super funny guy’s team up in an outlandish film directed by the guy that wrote Tropic Thunder?  What could go wrong?  Not much, as it turns out, but not much goes too right either.

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Get Hard begins with a sobbing Will Ferrell filling the screen with all his goofy glory. We’re then taken a month back in time to reveal highly successful businessman Ferrell and his life of luxury. This guy’s got it all. He’s got a smoking hot wife, a gigantic house (with plans to build a much larger home on the horizon), and plenty of servants and housekeepers. At work, he’s a hotshot and is quickly made partner at his firm. Immediately thereafter he’s taken into custody for fraud and sentence to the maximum punishment, ten years in prison. Ferrell turns to the carwash guy at his building played by Kevin Hart. Ferrell assumes (wrongly) that Hart’s served time and enlists the short statured goofball to teach him how to survive behind bars. Lots of wacky scenarios take place as the duo explore prison life by way of the bizarre pairing of Ferrell and Hart. It’s late revealed Ferrell was wrongly accused, framed by his boss, and it’s up to the duo to clear his name. Naturally they do and everybody lives happily ever after.

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The reason I haven’t referred to either Kevin Hart or Will Ferrell by their characters name is because each actor is simply playing themselves. Both performers play heavily into their individual strengths and there in lies the trouble with the movie. Comedy duos tend to work best when you’ve got a goofball and a straight man. This movie seems to lack a straight man. Each guy is hamming it up. It can work when played properly, but it’s not here. Kevin Hart is presented to us as the straight man, but he’s not really acting the part. His reactions to Will Ferrell’s bizarre character actions are a little too over the top, and his has many moments of his own that are a little more wacky than they need to be. Ferrell doesn’t really get a chance to embrace the full depth of his unusual humor either. It mostly feels like he’s dipping his toe into the bizarre rather than diving in. I think the issue lies in the sort of comedy this is. It feels like much more of a situational comedy, whereas I believe a guy like Will Ferrell shines more when he’s doing character comedy work. Also, there is many a moment when the innuendo laden title is taken for a ride. They stretch out the lame wordplay a bit too long whenever they do. Lame jokes like that coupled with the large number of, what you might call, out of touch gay jokes makes for an overall immature feeling movie.

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Did I enjoy Get Hard? Overall I would say yes. There are enough funny elements to keep me entertained during my viewing, but not enough to make this film a comedy classic. When you have two comedy giants like Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart teaming up of course your expectations are going to be high and unfortunately Get Hard does not live up to those expectations.